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Pidgeon Night


Rusty Broadspear

It wasn't before the invention of the wheel, it just seems that long ago. Sometimes it feels like yesterday.

I was around 7 years of age. There was Mum, Dad, Grandad and myself, living in a small terraced house. Terraced meaning in a row, similar to houses on a TV soap called Coronation Street.

There were three bedrooms, each had its own coal fireplace, never used either because of fire risk or we couldn't afford the coal, so the hearths and chimneys were stuffed with balls of newspaper.

The window of my bedroom overlooked the back of the row, an assortment of untidy gardens, at the bottom of each one was a brick built toilet. These were the sole toilets for each and every house, they were cold, draughty, wet, smelly and behind the cistern pipe of each toilet you would find a selection of last weeks
newspapers. Toilet rolls? Hah!!

Built onto the back of each house there was a small outbuilding, used for storing coal and a few sundries. We were fortunate as we had our own water pump in the kitchen, while others had to share a communal pump. I remember many a night bathing in an old tin bath, having it topped up occasionally from a huge kettle that simmered away on the dying embers of a coal fire.

The street at the front of the row was lit by gas light and I have memories of the Lighter Man arriving each evening at dusk, with bicycle and ladder and lighting each lamp in turn. There were regularly spaced enclosed entries where one could gain access from the street to the back of the row. Our front doors were only ever opened for visiting clergy or doctors, or weddings and funerals.

One Summer night, I had gone to bed about 8pm, and there were no curtains at my window, they had been washed and were sleeping on the clothes line that ran the length of our back garden. I was finding it difficult to sleep, it was still light and I could hear Mum, Dad and Grandad talking downstairs. So I was tossing and turning for some considerable time.

Each time I turned to face the window, my eyes would open slightly due to the extra light, however much I forced them shut. Being in bed, I couldn't see the gardens but I could see the roof of our nieghbour's outhouse. Perched on the roof was a solitary pidgeon, quite still, not making his silly Oooo oo ooo noise, not ruffling his feathers, but I was certain that he was looking at me. So I turned over, tried not to think about it, but then inadvertently at some point I turned to face the window and sure enough, he was still there. This made me feel a little uneasy, so I screamed (so loud, my voice broke at the ripe old age of seven).

Mum came rushing up to me, by then I was jumping up and down on the bed, blubbering and blabbering and pointing at this weirdly know it all pidgeon. I remember thinking of it as somehow knowing me and not liking me. Mum called down to Dad and he followed her instructions. While I stood at the window with Mum's arm around me, Dad appeared outside, he shouted, clapped his hands and behold the pidgeon took flight.

Problem solved? No way Pedro!

Eventually, after a few hugs, (I still like hugs, funny how some things stay with you through life), I fell asleep.

And while I was asleep, dreaming about Percy know it all Pidgeon the room grew darker, until it was saturated with the blackness of ancient coal.

It was nearly midnight, couldn't have been much later because Mum and Dad were still up. I awoke, startled by a noise in my dreams, I sat up rubbing my eyes. It was a moonless but starlit night and I was brave enough to take a fleeting glimpse at the roof of the outhouse. Whew!! no fidgety pidgeoty!! Sleep hadn't quite abandoned me, I was about to get back under the covers when I heard the noise real life, not dream noise, rustling, scraping, coming from the foot of the bed. I knew there was no monster under the bed, I'd checked before climbing in, I always did - everybody did, didn't they?

Scraping, rustling, getting louder, I drew in such a breath to release the most ungodliest of screams but I choked instead, no scream, paralysed, choking, scraping, rustling and then.

I thought I saw movement, something white floating about the height of my bed, then another, then another.

That's when the scream materialised, I swear the room was shaking, it was bedlam, my bedroom was full of pidgeons. Hundreds of them swooping, diving, trying to peck at my eyes, the noise was deafening, I was crying and weeing and scrambling further down the covers.

The light came on. I heard Mum and Dad, sounded like they were arguing, still bedlam, heard something smash to the floor, heard the sash window open. Eventually all was quiet.

For the rest of the night I was in Mum and Dads bed, I knew I was too old for this although Sunday mornings I sometimes climbed in with them. Before we went to sleep they explained what had happened. Old Percy know it all Pidgeon had found his way down my chimney, disturbing all the balls of newspaper on the way. His only means of escape was downwards into my bedroom, so him and all these balls of newspaper looked, felt and heard like a whole flock of pidgeons.

This was a suppressed memory brought recently into my consciousness, when I accidentally ran over a pidgeon. If they live that long, let's just hope it was know it all.

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